This is the final post in the series, a look at logistic and support issues.
With a reduction in fleet size it is logical that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is also reduced. Recent announcements have confirmed the following
With a smaller surface fleet these requirements are correspondingly lower, and hence we have decided to withdraw from service the Auxiliary Oiler RFA Bayleaf and the Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment vessel RFA Fort George from April 2011.
Additionally the Bay Class amphibious support ship RFA Largs Bay will be withdrawn from service in April 2011.
Bayleaf was due out of service this year anyway although as one commenter notes, would have been extended.
The Leaf Class Auxiliary Oiler or Support Tanker is used primarily for transferring fuels between MoD locations and fuel replenishment at sea. Much of this fuel transfer role has been carried out by commercial operators and the class only has a single hull. Although MARPOL regulations prohibit single hull tankers they do make provision for government owned ships to be exempted, however, it is the government’s intention to be fully compliant so the Maritime Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) programme is seeking to replace the existing single hull ships.
Withdrawing Fort George is a surprising decision because the Fort Victoria class are arguably the most versatile ships in the RFA fleet, as their recent pirate hunting and drug smuggler busting exploits show. They are also much younger than the older Fort Victoria Class and were not due out of service until 2019.
Singe Task Group Support
In looking to the future it is worth a recap on the present, the RFA is perhaps a little less well known than the RN fleet. The role of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is to support the Royal Navy effort by supplying it with fuel, ammunition and other stores. It also supports amphibious operations and recently, has been filling in for the RN on security and presence related tasks.
The Fort Class (especially the newer (II)) are extremely versatile but they are single hull, likewise the Rover and Leaf classes. The only modern ships in the flotilla are the Wave Class which are more or less fuel only. This presents a problem because in order to support the single task group with dry/refrigerated stores and ammunition we need something other than a Wave class.
The Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) project has had more lives than a whole herd of cats, on, off and on again. Most of the indecision has been driven by cost issues and delays around the CVF. Originally intended to replace the existing replenishment ships and provide a joint sea based logistics capability, the sea basing concept seemed all the rage in the US so as usual, the UK followed. We have gone through any number of industrial partners, wasted a lot of their time and so the choice of willing build or operation partners seems to be dwindling to the usual suspects.
Towards the end of last year it showed signs of twitching back to life with the Afloat Support (AfSup) directorate in DE&S launching a pre-qualification phase for the Fleet Tanker element but this again, seems to be on the back burner again. Instead of a single monolithic project it now comprises a number of single projects.
With such a rapidly changing RN fleet size and future plan it is not surprising that the RFA component has seen only faltering progress. With the TD proposal to configure the majority of the combat fleet of the Royal Navy into a single, smaller yet more powerful Task Group, the need to deploy ships operating in small groups or alone becomes diminished. As the fleet is transitioned to the Single Task Group and within the same time frame the Rover, Leaf and Fort Rosalie classes would be withdrawn.
Inter location fuel transfers would be carried out by commercial charter, there is some military rationale for retaining this ‘in house’ but not sufficient when measured against the likely cost.
When looking at replenishment requirements it is important to consider the demand. With a reduction in main fleet size and the likely improvements in fuel consumption the basis on which calculations have previously been made will need revisiting. As an example, the Type 45’s integrated electric propulsion system has proven to use less than a quarter of the fuel of the Type 42 and Type 23, on average, 35 cubic metres per day.
The first question to ask is could a single Wave Class (from a pool of two) support the Task Group with sufficient quantity of fuel and lubricants and in sufficient variety. I suspect not, even though they are very large, but it might be worth investigating. Working on the assumption that a single Wave would be unable to support the Task Group alone and in the interests of providing some measure of resilience, a need for additional vessels becomes clear. These would provide aviation support, solids stores and additional fuel.
OPTION 1: 2 Wave Knight Class and 2 modified Fort (II) Class
The Fort class fit this gap neatly but with the early withdrawal of one of them and the single hull issue they should be discounted. The older Fort (I) class definitely need replacing but the decision to withdraw the newer and more versatile Fort George is confusing. In line with the make do approach, could they be modified so that the fuel holds were double skinned and would this satisfy the relevant regulations?
Apparently, this option was considered but discounted; given the change in financial realities and reduction in fleet size/F35 could it be worthwhile to put it back on the agenda, it would mean reversing the decision of withdraw Fort George?
So my preferred option would be to make do and mend in the short to medium term.
This is the lowest cost option when looking at capital costs but depends on being practical.
OPTION 2: 2x Wave Knight and 2x Conventional Fort (II) Class replacement
Unfortunately this means that when CVF comes into service in the early 2020 period, the replenishment fleet will be between 17 and 27 years old, the Forts being the oldest, hardly suitable. Looking to this period the Wave Class will still have a good working life ahead of them but the Fort Class will definitely need replacing.
If we are to replace the Fort Class, assuming they can’t have their lives usefully extended, with a solid store focussed multi-purpose replenishment ship a number of important issues need to be resolved, besides capacity of course.
What would they need to do and have?
- Standards compliant Replenishment at Sea (RAS) equipment to support the Single Task Group and allied ships for various types of bulk fuel, astern or on the port or starboard sides, whilst in port or to a deployed force ‘over the beach’
- Dry, refrigerated and ammunition stores RAS. The ship would carry fuel but the main role would be solid support
- Potable water generation, storage and dissemination
- Support vertical replenishment
- Operate in hazardous conditions
- Aviation and comprehensive repair/maintenance facilities for up to 4 Merlin sized helicopters
- Extensive space for ISO containers
- Accommodation facilities for approximately 250 additional personnel
To the sweet shop, post haste!
Hang on just a minute there, this is Ebenezer ‘TD’ Scrooge with my obsession with commonality as a means of driving down cost.
OPTION 3: Create a new multi-purpose support class to replace the Forts, Argus and eventually the Wave Knights and Diligence
There is a debate about the nature of support ship design, should they be specialised or multi-purpose, or perhaps a bit in between? The Dutch/Canadian Joint Support Ship designs take the multi-purpose road and the Rolls Royce or BMT Aegir designs are more traditional.
Both Dutch and Canadian designs have a vehicle deck, RORO ramp and extensive accommodation, whilst this may suit the Dutch and Canadian forces I am not so sure it is suitable for the UK. Other similar designs include a well deck.
We already have a number of amphibious vessels and I would prefer the money be used for a more traditional vessel, perhaps investing in automated cargo handling systems to reduce crewing requirements. With our new found love in with France, we might even go dibs on the DCNS BRAVE proposal
On the other hand, there are obvious benefits to creating a single class of support vessels, ruthless commonality coming into play again.
Perhaps a viable long term strategy is to create a single class of vessels that can be used to replace the Forts and eventually, the Waves. By failing to specialise and making the ships more multi- purpose we inevitably increase the numbers required but would this necessarily be a bad thing?
It would certainly improve flexibility, resilience and compensate in the cost realm by having a single training and support pipeline. Instead of focussing on the capital costs we should look at through life costs, replacing up to 7 types with 1 will obviously create many opportunities for cost savings.
Something along the lines of a Dutch JSS could replace the Fort Class and eventually, the Wave class. Because of the difference in out of service dates between the Fort and Wave Knight Class the UK JSS would be obtained in two batches with the second batch having a greater emphasis on fuels rather than solid stores.
If we were to take this option the RORO cargo hold/s could be used for vehicles, containers or other stores. The modular hospital facilities covered in the previous post might also be deployed aboard this ship class and with a relatively large helicopter landing area would also provide valuable aviation training facilities, replacing RFA Argus.
Although it would not necessarily be ideal, if a cargo optimised JSS(UK) needed extra fuel capacity it could utilise ISO container tanks. With a containerised workshop system it might even be possible for one to replace some of the services provided by RFA Diligence.
The ships would also mesh quite neatly with a more comprehensive approach to containerisation.
BMT carried out a study in 2008 on the Future Operational Maintenance and Repair (OMAR) capability and described a number of options for this so called Cinderella capability, including custom designed vessels, converting commercial vessels, a modular deployable capability and finally an offshore barge that can be transported by a Float On Float Off (FLO-FLO) heavy lift carrier.
The study concluded that the offshore barge option was the optimal solution and made specific reference to the availability in the commercial sector of heavy lift vessels. The BMT study proposed a large (sized to be compatible with the Dockwise heavy lift vessels in service at the time) offshore barge to fulfil the OMAR requirement. This would be equipped with a range of cranes, workshops, accommodation for 200 persons, stores, aviation facilities and displace approximately 3,500 tonnes. It would also be equipped with some propulsion to support limited repositioning and station keeping. The heavy lift FLO FLO vessel would have a number of modes of operation; it could deploy alone to recover a damaged vessel, deploy the barge and withdraw or deploy with the barge, offload it, lift the damaged vessel for repair before returning it to the sea and picking the barge back up. Since then a number of other operators have emerged including Rolldock. We might also develop other barge derivatives, have a read here for an interesting look at using an offshore barge as an operating base.
This might be a candidate for a joint NATO capability.
Land and Littoral Force Logistics Support
The scope of amphibious and littoral operations is expansive; they may range from forced theatre entry to a small raiding force or non combatant evacuation and everything in between. This drives the need for flexibility and makes the resultant amphibious capability so bloody useful; the deployment of UK amphibious forces over the last couple of decades amply demonstrates this.
Although the UK has for a long time not been into the Saving Private Ryan opposed landing business the amphibious assault capability still packs a punch. The UK and French helicopter assault at Suez was the first of such as showed the way. No more storming well defended beaches but multiple vertical assaults to dislocate enemy forces and allow subsequent forces to manoeuvre to the objective.
Conventional wisdom dictates that CVF arrives, establishes air superiority and destroys selected enemy forces. This might also, of course, be carried out by land based aircraft. Reducing the threat level then allows amphibious forces to arrive and get within helicopter range, depending on the operation, these forces then enable the next wave and so on. The objective might be a suitable deepwater port which enables civilian charter ships to bring the bulk of the joint force supplies into theatre. This is of course a highly simplistic look at amphibious operations but it illustrates the thinking behind equipment selection.
Assault is carried out by the LPH (HMS Ocean) and LPD (Albion class) with the LPD(A) bringing up the follow on logistics support. The Point Class RORO ships from Flensburg (6 of) are operated as a PFI by Foreland Shipping, these and civilian charter ships provide the bulk lift to sustain operations at scale. The SDSR indicated a reduction in amphibious capability with a halving of the Albion, reducing the Bay class by 25% and only scaling for amphibious operation at Commando Group level rather than Brigade level.
In a previous post I suggested that littoral manoeuvre, security and capacity building should be a ‘capability plus’ area but achieving this does not necessarily mean high intensity operations in the littoral. With CVF likely to operate with a tailored air group of F35, Attack Helicopter, Merlin, Wildcat and Chinook, it will replace the role currently fulfilled by HMS Ocean. Although not ideal, the proposal for retaining the two Albion Class LPD vessels at alternating high and low readiness; is understandable. I also suggested retaining the fourth Bay Class LPD(A) as a joint RFA/DFiD operated humanitarian support vessel so this would still be available for amphibious operations with some notice.
The MARS Joint Sea Base Logistics vessel now seems but a distant dream but we would still need to support the Logistics Operations Group I defined earlier. If we took Option 3 above, replacing the Fort class with a new multifunctional joint support ship, this would be able to provide a wide range of replenishment, aviation support and command and control support functions for the LOG.
The overall TD concept of a smaller but harder hitting task group, forward presence and selected improvements lends itself to the multifunction logistic support approach. The short term transitional option is merely a stepping stone to an RFA that consists almost entirely of a single class of joint support ships able to equally support a task group, littoral operations group, an expanded forward presence deployment or any combination.
I am not 100% convinced by the sea basing concept and at an eye watering cost it seems beyond a single nation, unless that nation is the USA. All manner of expensive solutions have been suggested but some of the most expensive ones seem to be in the interface between the shore and ships, especially RORO and container ships.
The objective of many amphibious operations is to secure a RORO/container capable port. As vehicles get larger and heavier, the fuel and logistic support overhead of any deployed force is becoming larger. This means that amphibious capabilities either have to grow into expanded capacity or get smaller.
Amphibious logistics are simply about throughput, the ability to offload from ships, usually onto smaller ships/hovercraft and deposit their cargo onto shore, ready for movement inland. It’s a complicated, finely choreographed, operation that has to deal with many variables. This has resulted in many imaginative solutions and proposals, mainly from the US of course but in some respects the UK with its Albion/Bay/Mexeflote/Points capability has many advantages. The QinetiQ partial air cushion catamaran (PASCAT) demonstrator shows that the UK can still innovate in this area. The PASCAT concept from IMAA builds on the sidewall hovercraft from the sixties. As innovative as it is, it still doesn’t solve the problem of capacity, for that one needs a port, not a beach.
The earthquake in Haiti bought into sharp relief the need for port facilities, even the combined capabilities of a number of nations amphibious ships, serious capacity did not start moving until port facilities had been re-established. The allies faced exactly the same problem of logistics in 1942, when they started planning for D Day. Planners knew there was little chance of securing a deep water port, so basically built their own, the Mulberry, the remains of which can still be seen. The principle problems were twofold, providing a protected anchorage and some means to bridge the gap between the shore and a ship at anchor. Although amphibious transports were used, everything from the DUKW to the LCT, the Mulberry was instrumental in the success of the operation. A little known aspect of Mulberry was the US RHINO floating barge ferry.
Over the beach assumes there is actually a beach available, this is not always the case. A beach also needs connecting roads and for a sustainment operation would need stores and onward transport facilities. The US has a significant capability in this area (JLOTS) and are investing in a number of sea basing concepts.
A key component of JLOTS is the Elevated Causeway or ELCAS
Despite being very impressive for RORO cargo these still do not handle break bulk or ISO containers particularly efficiently, container handling is especially slow in comparison with established.
It is arguable whether any significant advances have been made since Mulberry and Rhino.
Instead of planning ever more expensive large scale hovercraft, PASCAT or T Craft, we should perhaps be concentrating here, improving a known and thoroughly unglamorous capability, yet one which is likely to be increasingly used. As it becomes easier to deny ports and push amphibious operations further away from within striking distance of such facilities the need to deliver actual real life bulk cargo, which means containers, into an austere location, will be more needed than ever.
Piers for use on beaches
This was the basic requirement laid down by Winston Churchill to the D Day planners, and the resultant Mulberry’s handled between 5,000 and 7,000 tonnes per day. Although the situation was of course quite different, one wonders what the transfer rate was in Haiti?
We always assume these are new problems that no one has ever faced before but in this case, again, we have been here before, particularly in the aftermath of the Falklands Conflict.
Based on technology and systems developed for the North Sea oil industry, the Falkland Islands Intermediate Port and Storage System (FIPASS) was designed to resolve a number of issues; port access, refrigerated warehouse space and personnel accommodation. Six North Sea oil rig support barges (300×90 ft) were connected together and linked to the shore via a 600 foot causeway. Four of the barges carried warehouses, with provision for refrigerated storage. In addition there was accommodation offices, which include a galley and messing facility for 200 persons.
The first cargo ship to use Flexiport unloaded 500 tonnes of general cargo and 60 ISO containers in 30 hours, by way of comparison, the same load, offloaded using Mexeflotes took 21 days
All this cost £23 million, or about £50 million in today’s money.
The company responsible for FIPASS (ITM Offshore) developed the concept further but have since gone out of business, Flexiport is now marketed and supported by ASP Ship Management. One of the key advantages to using barges is they do not transmit any load to the sea bed, improving siting flexibility. Flexiport is designed to turn any coastal or river anchorage into a working deepwater port by mooring custom designed and built pontoons in sufficient depth of water to enable ships to lie alongside and connecting the quayside formed by the pontoons to the road system ashore by a prefabricated bridge or causeway.
Of particular interest is the container port concept.
Simulation has confirmed this can handle 150 TEU’s per hour and can be expanded to include accommodation, storage, repair, aviation support or RORO facilities. It is very flexible and quick to install, except for the causeway to shore.
The US has also been looking at improvements to their capabilities and as might be expected, have come up with some fantastic solutions but one of the lowest profile yet potentially revolutionary, is the Lightweight Modular Causeway System or LCMS
LCMS was originally designed to enhance interoperability between MPF, MPF(F), and JHSV, the wider programme even looking at PASCAT designs. The Joint Enable Theater Access Sea Ports of Debarkation (JETA/SPOD) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) has demonstrated that a hybrid design, incorporating elements of land based tactical bridging equipment and floating causeways can support significant loads up to main battle tank weight. Although it is primarily designed for direct unloading of intermediate ships it could be combined with the Flexiport. The system is compact, allowing 120 feet of causeway to be shipped or stored in a space with a footprint equal to that of three 20-foot ISO containers.
From the official description;
Unlike other systems, the LMCS uses no in-water connections. And in contrast to the current causeway systems (ELCAS) can be deployed by seven trained personnel and be operational in approximately 3 hours. An equal number of personnel can recover the system in approximately the same time. The system is stored in a folded configuration with floatation bladders empty. When deployed, the system is sequentially joined, or assembled, and the floatation bladders are inflated. The bladder nearest the shore can be partially inflated as needed to provide a ramp-like entry and exit point. A unique feature of the LMCS is that the floatation bladders will not be filled with high-pressure air. Instead, they will be rapidly filled with only the volume of air suitable to provide floatation for the roadway system. This significantly speeds up deployment times and can be done with a pre-pressurised compressed air system (similar to that used to inflate aircraft emergency exit slides) or with a lightweight portable blower system that is smaller than a commercial vacuum.
LCMS has also investigated a powered system for dragging ISO Containers of 463L pallets along its length using a deployable winch system.
On its own it will also enhance ship to shore capabilities but as we mentioned above, the causeway from a Flexiport to shore can be a construction bottleneck, combining the two would yield significant benefits.
Instead of having to transfer containers, vehicles and break bulk cargo from container or RORO ships onto shallow draft lighters (JHSV etc) so than can mate with the LCMS causeway, combining it with a large Flexiport allows these deeper draft cargo vessels to unload directly, cutting out the middle man and supporting significant offload capacity in the early stages of an operation. Container and break bulk offload would use commercially available handling equipment
The standard sized offshore barge is in widespread use, designs are mature and there are many manufacturers. Usage includes floating pipe layers, accommodation, heavy lift cranes, power stations, ROV operation and salvage. Since the Flexiport concept was envisaged things have moved on considerably, dynamic positioning and other technologies have lowered operating costs and improved utility.
Some have limited self deployment capability but in general are either towed or carried on FLO/FLO vessels.
One of the claimed advantages of the Flexiport model that uses these offshore barges is that they float; therefore no load is placed on the sea bed. Their size, anchors and ballasting will contribute to stability but if absolute stability is desirable there are other options.
Jack up or self erecting barges are used for salvage, craning and offshore construction, especially for wind turbines. This design could be used instead of the free floating type. If more mobility is required the offshore wind turbine industry has created a solution, the MPI Resolution, Discovery and Adventure. These combine the features of a jack up construction barge with a normal self propelled vessel. Although smaller than the larger offshore barges above they are much more mobile. Although much smaller than an offshore barge, because they sit on the sea bed, stability for load handling is assured and it is unlikely that anything above 100 tonnes would be handled anyway.
The first of the class was constructed for less than $30 million
Using a similar design concept, the vessel could be converted to act as the Flexiport loading pier, with a container handling crane and a self deployable lightweight floating causeway.
Deployment time could be measured in hours not weeks, as with conventional methods.
Solutions can often be found in the offshore industry but we tend to ignore them and go off on tangents, designing bespoke military solutions.
This isn’t particularly clever, it’s just taking commercially derived proven systems and stitching them together for a non combat but vital application. The still in use FIPASS has shown the viability of such a system, ELCAS is in service, container handling systems are in widespread use, the jack up wind turbine installation ships are busy today, FLO FLO ships are in use all over the world so the only development requirement is the causeway between the loading point and shoreline. This only becomes a development issue if we want a quicker installation than possible using traditional pile driving and build and/or better sea state performance than floating causeways.
We already have a huge amount of expertise in designing military bridge structures using advanced aluminium alloys and the inflatable gap crossing systems used on land could be combined to create a rapidly deployed, sturdy and high capacity floating causeway.
All or most of the pieces are available today, all that is needed is a bit of glue.
Developing such a niche capability is perhaps not a good idea for the UK, alone although it would certainly meet my ‘capability plus’ test for something which we can excel at and which does not exist anywhere else. This would therefore deliver influence in a coalition operation.
However, a more pragmatic approach might be to develop it is a joint EU or NATO system.
Europe has a breadth of relevant expertise covering design and construction and some of the elements needed could take advantage of this expertise in the military bridging and heavy maritime lift, salvage, and offshore exploration sectors. It would also have a dual use, just as useful in a military operation as a humanitarian disaster response and chimes with the soft power ambitions of both NATO and the European Union.
The nature of this dual use, back room, behind the scenes, seventh echelon capability would also suit some of the European nations that wish to remain engaged but might have difficulty selling a more combat oriented participation in a future operation.
It’s just a thought but I wonder if something like this would be of greater benefit than the proposed MARS Joint Sea Based Logistics vessel.
Acronyms anyone, Joint Coastal Access System (JCAS)
This is therefore a proposal to create a multinational joint capability with the RFA/RN/RM/Army providing expertise as required.
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